What is sustainable fish all about?

...It's about sourcing fish from fisheries which are managed to make sure fish populations remain healthy and where fishing methods minimise environmental impact. This means we can all enjoy great-quality fish now, and be confident of healthy fish stocks in the years to come.

The oceans sustain all life on Earth and are vitally important to our own lives. Although they cover more than 70 percent of our planet, the oceans are not infinitely resilient. The health of the oceans impacts many of our primary concerns, including our own health and nutrition, access to food for all economic levels, sustainable economic development, our social structures, and just plain delicious meals. Our seafood choices offer a daily opportunity for each of us to contribute to the oceans' restoration.

Flatfish, a family-owned business defines sustainable seafood as seafood fished or farmed in a manner that can maintain or increase production in the long term, without jeopardising the health or function of the web of life in our oceans.

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Guide to labels

Seafood products are often displayed with a variety of labels and certificates which are designed to help consumers to make informed choices when buying fish and shellfish.

Unfortunately, the sheer abundance of labels can often make matters even more confusing, with many consumers unaware of the differences between the schemes. The labels indicate standards on a wide range of issues, including sustainability, food safety, and social and animal welfare.

But buying high quality seafood doesn't need to be so difficult. We've assembled a simple guide to the most common labels you'll see on seafood products, so you shouldn't find yourself stumped in the supermarket again.


Marine Stewardship Council

The MSC label is an independent sustainability label which indicates that seafood has been sourced using methods which minimise impacts upon the marine environment and fish stocks. The MSC's standards comply with UN guidelines on eco-labelling.

Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organisation established to address the problem of unsustainable fishing and safeguard seafood supplies for the future.

Their vision is for the world’s oceans to be teeming with life – today, tomorrow and for generations to come. A sustainable seafood market is crucial to making this vision a reality.

The MSC works with fisheries, scientist, seafood companies, conservation groups and the public to encourage environmental friendly seafood choices. The two main ways the MSC regulates sustainable seafood is by setting standards for certified fisheries and ecolabeling.

The certified fisheries are measured against three standards which were created to decrease overfishing and maintain healthy ecosystems. The three standards are:

  • Maintaining Sustainable Fish Stocks

The fishery may not overexploit any of its resources.

  • Environmental Impact

Each fishery is judged on the amount of environmental impact they contribute to the ocean. The fishery may not use any form of fishing that destroys the structure, productivity, function, or diversity of the ecosystem.

  • Effective Management

Not only does the fishery have to follow the two other MSC standards, but they also have to follow all local, national, and international laws.

 The MSC ecolabel

Once a fishery has been reviewed and certified, their certification lasts for 5 years. During those 5 years, the fishery will be inspected and held to the environmental standards of MSC. After the 5 years has passed, the fishery will have to go through the approval process again.

The second way the MSC regulates seafood to the public is by using their ecolabel. The ecolabel on seafood products guarantees the seafood has come from a sustainable source and certified fishery.

Before a seafood product can carry the MSC eco-label, the fishery must acquire the MSC Fisheries certification. Additionally, all companies in the supply chain that take ownership of the product including distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers, pack houses, traders, retailers, catering organisations and restaurants must acquire the MSC Chain of Custody Certification.

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Track a Fishery

Use the search function below to find the latest information on all fisheries in the MSC program...


Responsible Fishing Scheme

Developed by Seafish, the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) recognises good practice in the fishing industry. The scheme assesses fishing practices, vessel equipment and hygiene, environmental responsibility, and crew competence.

The Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) is a voluntary vessel based programme certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices on fishing vessels.

The Responsible Fishing Scheme is open to all types of fishing vessels and fisheries and is a ‘business- to-business’ tool to help fishermen showcase best practice through independent, third-party auditing.

Such assurance is increasingly being sought by the UK fisheries supply chain, and so the RFS satisfies a unique and necessary function. It is the only programme certifying crew welfare and responsible catching practices on vessels, complementing other fishery-based sustainability certifications  and contributing to this sector’s long term viability.

The RFS has been developed in accordance with the requirements of internationally recognised standard ISO17065. There is a robust governance structure in place led by the RFS Oversight Board who are responsible for the strategic direction and objectives of the scheme.  To find out more click here.

The independently audited scheme demonstrates that a vessel and its skipper are operating to best practice in 5 core areas:

  • Safety, health and welfare
  • Training and professional development
  • The vessel and its mission
  • Care of the catch
  • Care for the environment.

More about the scheme

The  Responsible Fishing Scheme is a voluntary vessel based programme certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices on board fishing vessels. The RFS provides tangible evidence that the seafood landed by a vessel has been responsibly harvested, handled, and preserved to industry agreed best practice standards.

The Responsible Fishing Scheme is the only global standard auditing responsible and ethical fishing practices on board fishing vessels. A vessel and its skipper is the ‘unit’ audited against the standard.  Certification to the scheme demonstrates that a vessel and its skipper is operating to best practice in five core areas:

Safety, health and welfare

  • A commitment to generating a culture of integrity and respect (e.g. no forced labour) will be demonstrated.
  • Requirements established also draw from other relevant safety management and ethical and welfare initiatives to improve safety of the crew and promote decent working conditions.

Training and professional development

  • Covers accessible training for the key priority areas, especially safety.
  • Focus is on improving skills, knowledge and understanding.
  • Commitment to raise standards, open up new opportunities and cooperate with management authorities.

The vessel and its mission

  • Statement detailing vessel’s mission (e.g. fishing area; catch focus; gear type etc.)
  • The vessel and its gear are in compliance with all current legislation
  • All legal with the right documentation in place.
  • Full cooperation with Voluntary Agreements in existence in the fishery.

Care of the catch

  • Focus on supplying safe, high quality, wholesome product with known provenance.
  • Hygienic handling and storage at appropriate temperatures.
  • Full traceability from catch to quayside.
  • Responsible capture & landing of live products.
  • Commitment to maintaining the value of the catch.

Care for the environment

  • Responsible practice & respecting the environment (management of litter, lost fishing gear recovery, wildlife interaction records)
  • Supporting fishery science (eg observers, science partnerships, etc.)
  • Tie-in with other voluntary schemes.

Search the RFS database

Use the search function below to view the latest information of vessels registered or certified in the Responsible Fishing Scheme.


Global G.A.P

Global G.A.P. is a private sector body which sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural and aquaculture products. GAP stands for ‘Good Agricultural Practice.’

GlobalG.A.P. Standards are intended to reassure consumers about how food is produced by minimising any detrimental environmental impacts of operations, reducing use of chemicals and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety as well as animal welfare.


RSPCA Freedom Food

The RSPCA Freedom Food label applies only to farmed fish, and indicates that the fish have been given more space, exposed to fewer chemicals, and fed with sustainably sourced fish offcuts.


Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

ASC is an independent not for profit organisation with global influence.

ASC works with aquaculture producers, seafood processors, retail and foodservice companies, scientists, conservation groups and consumers to:

  • Recognise and reward responsible aquaculture through the ASC aquaculture certification programme and seafood label.
  • Promote best environmental and social choice when buying seafood.
  • Contribute to transforming seafood markets towards sustainability.

Global Aquaculture Alliance

Another label found only on farmed fish, the Global Aquaculture Alliance label indicates that fewer chemicals have been used, and damage to the surrounding area has been minimised.

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